Health Insurers Paid Chamber $86.2 Million To Stop Reform

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Karen Ignagni, CEO of AHIP, the insurers’ lobby through which money was funneled.
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Today Bloomberg broke an eye-popping story on the true extent to which health insurers went to quietly undermine reform while publicly assuring us of their cooperation. See here where former insurance industry insider Wendell Potter predicted as much, that Big Insurance would employ front groups, third parties and scare tactics in order to maintain the failing status quo and keep Wall Street happy – all at the expense of 32 million uninsured Americans.
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By Drew Armstrong – Nov 17, 2010

Health insurers last year gave the U.S. Chamber of Commerce $86.2 million that was used to oppose the health-care overhaul law, according to tax records and people familiar with the donation.

The insurance lobby, whose members include Minnetonka, Minnesota-based UnitedHealth Group Inc. and Philadelphia-based Cigna Corp., gave the money to the Chamber in 2009 as Democrats were increasing their criticism of the industry, according to one person who requested anonymity because laws don’t require identifying funding sources. The Chamber of Commerce received the money from the Washington-based America’s Health Insurance Plans when the industry was urging Congress to drop a plan to create a competing public insurance option.

The spending exceeded the insurer group’s entire budget from a year earlier and accounted for 40 percent of the Chamber’s $214.6 million in 2009 spending. The expenditures reflect the insurers’ attempts to influence the bill after Democrats in Congress and the White House put more focus on regulation of the insurance industry.

The $86.2 million paid for advertisements, polling and grass roots events to drum up opposition to the bill that’s projected to provide coverage to 32 million previously uninsured Americans, according to Tom Collamore, a Chamber of Commerce spokesman. The Chamber used the funds to “advance a market- based health-care system and advocate for fundamental reform that would improve access to quality care while lowering costs,” it said in a statement.

U.S. Disclosure Law

The organizations disclosed the funding yesterday in annual tax records required under U.S. law. The Chamber’s records show it received $86.2 million from a single group, which a second person briefed on the transaction by those involved identified as America’s Health Insurance Plans, also called AHIP.

Tax disclosure forms require organizations to list only the amounts granted or received from other groups, and not the organizations’ identities. Health insurers expressed opposition to the law signed in March while they conferred with congressional Democrats writing the bill and the White House. At the same time, the Chamber of Commerce was advertising its opposition.

The funds were given by to the chamber in August 2009 and were funded by health insurers, according to the first person.

Neither the Chamber of Commerce nor AHIP would answer questions on the donation beyond their statements.

“With so much at stake we, like other major stakeholders, invested in advocacy,” Robert Zirkelbach, a spokesman for the insurers, said in an e-mail. “We supported a number of leading health-care advocacy organizations and coalitions that shared our views.”

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